Each year we ask college football coaches to tell us what they really think about the other teams in their conference. But we don't want the cliche'd press conference platitudes, so we ask them to give us their quotes off-the-record and anonymously. Here are this year's quotes in alphabetical order for each team in the Big Ten.
What Big Ten Coaches are saying about: Illinois
“They finished 7–6 with a nice performance against Baylor in the Texas Bowl. But what could have been for Zooker? He lost three close games (67–65 to Michigan in triple overtime, Minnesota 38–34 and Fresno State 25–23) or could have had a double-digit win season. But that was last year; this year they must replace running back Mikel Leshoure, who left early for the pros after a great season last year."
"I really like (quarterback) Nathan Scheelhaase. I think he’s going to be a good one."
"Defensively they should be better in their second year under (coordinator) Vic Koenning."
"They certainly have to like their schedule. They open the season with five consecutive home games and play eight home games in 2011. They only have four road trips and the toughest one is at Penn State."
"They’re going to go as Nathan (Scheelhaase) goes. When he played well last year, I thought they played well. They didn’t ask him to do a lot. Paul (Petrino) did a great job of tailoring the offense to his skill set. I saw him do more in the bowl game than he did all year. He's an outstanding player.”
What Big Ten Coaches are saying about: Indiana
“I know Kevin (Wilson) is going to change their attitude. I’m not saying there was anything bad with Billy (Lynch), but this team is going to take on the personality of Kevin Wilson. Kevin’s demanding, and he’s got a lot of passion, and he’s a great offensive mind. You’ll see that program take on that personality."
"Kevin will find out very quickly he’s not at Oklahoma anymore. He will have his work cut out for him, but he made some great hires in (co-offensive coordinators) Rod Smith and Kevin Johns along with (co-defensive coordinators) Doug Mallory and Mike Ekeler."
"I don’t know enough about their depth defensively. They graduated quite a few guys. They were young in the secondary and had to move guys around a year ago. So it’s going to be a work in progress. But they’ve got some flexibility there. They got some junior college guys, so that gives them a chance to get good in a hurry."
"4–0 is very possible. If so, they should get at least two wins the rest of the way and start Wilson’s rebuilding plan in the right direction.”
What Big Ten Coaches are saying about: Iowa
“What a wild offseason for the Hawkeyes. They were expected to compete for the Big Ten title last year, but way underperformed. Now they must replace a massive senior class plus they also lost safety Tyler Sash (who left early for the NFL) and dismissed running back Adam Robinson for off-the-field issues."
"James Vandenberg takes over (at quarterback), and he will be one of several new faces."
"Running back seems to be okay with Marcus Coker, who just blew up in the Insight Bowl."
"The unknown is how will the Hawkeyes respond to the January weightlifting episode that sent 13 players to the hospital? Will they rally together or will there be dissenters? That could be a very real problem. The good news is the schedule is fairly tame and Iowa very easily could enter November at 7–1."
"Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you’re going to be worse. They’ve got guys champing at the bit for an opportunity. Are they going to go through some growing pains early? Yeah. Because they don’t have that experience. But how do those young guys progress in season?”
What Big Ten Coaches are saying about: Michigan
“Michigan doesn’t have Rich Rod to kick around anymore. Brady Hoke takes over, and the first thing I want to see is what he does with Denard Robinson. That kid was unstoppable last year in the spread; it’s just that Michigan’s defense couldn’t stop anyone either. Hoke says he wants to run a two-back power rushing game, but that goes against the recruiting philosophy of Rodriguez, who preferred speed to size. It may take a couple of years for Hoke to get his type of players in Ann Arbor. Still Rodriguez certainly didn’t leave the cupboard bare."
"It’s a wholesale change. It’s going to be totally different than what you watched on tape (from 2010). You’re going to have a fullback in the game, an I-formation. They’re still going to be one-back at times, but they’re going to be what Brady did at Ball State and even more so what they did at San Diego State offensively."
"Besides how Hoke uses Robinson, I can’t wait to see what happens when San Diego State visits Michigan. That should be an emotional game for the Aztecs going against the old coach.”
What Big Ten Coaches are saying about:Michigan State
“Mark (Dantonio) has done a great job accumulating talent. They’ll get through the growing pains of a new (offensive) coordinator, but they’re not going to change. Mark is so consistent. They’re a team to be reckoned with in this league."
"They lose two great linebackers (Greg Jones and Eric Gordon), but they’ve recruited well, so it’s going to be interesting. How long is it going to be till they get up to speed?"
"The Spartans were terrific for 11 games last year. And then they stunk to high heaven in the other two games, getting absolutely lit up by Iowa (37–6) and Alabama (49–7 in the Capital One Bowl). The bowl game was painful to watch. That blowout should provide plenty of motivation for the returning players, and the Spartans have a good group coming back."
"I really like (quarterback) Kirk Cousins. He’s such a gritty, gutty guy and a tremendous leader."
"They may actually end up being a better team this year than last year, but it won’t show on the win-loss record because of road games against Notre Dame, Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa.”
What Big Ten Coaches are saying about: Minnesota
“This program’s going to take on Jerry Kill’s personality. To me, it was one of the best hires in college football. I’d much rather see him at Northern Illinois than Minnesota. He’s phenomenal. He’s got a great staff. They’ve all been together. They know what they want. Very similar to Iowa. They’re going to be very consistent. It’s not going to be about pomp and circumstance. It’s going to be about playing football and being the best man you can be."
"I think Jerry’s the right guy for that job, but it’s going to take some time. I hope the Minnesota fans can be patient. Certainly there shouldn’t be a lot of expectations in his first season at Minnesota, so anything over last year’s three-win season would be gravy."
"MarQueis Gray has spent some time at wide receiver, but I think he’s most effective at quarterback. It looks like he’ll get a shot to play quarterback."
"That’s a tough job. The new stadium has helped, but it’s still a tough sell to get kids at Minnesota.”
What Big Ten Coaches are saying about: Nebraska
“I wonder where they are going to recruit from now (in the Big Ten). They will not be as welcome in the state of Texas. I don’t know how welcome they will be in California. It’s a different deal. Are they going to recruit Chicago? I don’t know."
"From a style of play, they will be fine. Their defense is so good. Their defense is not very complicated, but they run to the ball and they play hard."
"Taylor Martinez is fast. I don’t think he throws the ball very well. He is a glorified Wildcat quarterback, but he can run. He’s was one of the fastest guys in the league last year, so he will be one of the fastest guys in the Big Ten."
"Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler and (Ndamukong) Suh before them — those guys are incredible. That is why their defense is so good. Crick and Steinkuhler were among the top six defensive tackles in the league and to have two on the same team, that’s pretty good."
"Bo (Pelini) is pretty intense, but you can’t really tell from the other sideline. You see him go crazy on TV, but you can’t really tell.”
What Big Ten Coaches are saying about: Northwestern
“Eight starters return from last year’s potent offense led by quarterback Dan Persa. You hate to see such a great player like Persa suffer an injury like that last year (ruptured Achilles tendon), but I’m glad to see he’s back this season."
"Pat Fitzgerald may not have the greatest talent in the league, but those kids play so hard and never quit."
"With almost everyone returning offensively and the nucleus back on defense, they just might make a run at the Big Ten title. Don’t laugh, I really think that might happen if everything breaks the right way for them. This is a senior-oriented team, and they have a great deal of experience. The league schedule sets up nicely with the hardest road trips at Iowa and at Nebraska, while they don’t play Ohio State or Wisconsin."
"Persa is really, really good. They need to find a way to run the ball better. Their tailbacks have been average at best in the past few years."
"They struggled down the stretch with Persa out. The defense was just bad. Got lit up by Illinois, Wisconsin and Texas Tech.”
What Big Ten Coaches are saying about: Ohio State
“It’s tough. You wouldn’t wish their situation on your worst enemy. The defense is probably going to have to carry them early when the suspended guys are out."
"Who knows what to expect from the Buckeyes."
"The biggest thing I think is how the team reacts when the suspensions are completed. Are they still in the Big Ten race? Do the suspended players start right away? What about the guys playing in front of them? I think this could be a touchy issue with the team, and we’ll have to see how it plays out. They have to replace seven starters on defense. With all the off-the-field distractions and ongoing NCAA stuff, I just can’t see Ohio State winning a share of a seventh consecutive Big Ten title.”
What Big Ten Coaches are saying about: Penn State
“They’re very talented. Their quarterback situation is the big unknown. Are they going to settle on a guy? (Offensive coordinator) Galen Hall has always done a good job of tailoring his plays to their skill set."
"The loss of that defensive end (Pete Massaro) hurts. He’s a good player, really good player. And then they graduate the big guy inside (Ollie Ogbu), too, so they’ve got some losses there to deal with on defense."
"For now it appears Rob Bolden is back at quarterback. How long that lasts is unknown. After the Outback Bowl loss to Florida, the father said his son was leaving Penn State even though he was the first true freshman to start a season opener for Joe Paterno. If he returns and doesn’t mope and pout, it will be all good with the Nittany Lions. You just hope the kid doesn’t become a cancer on the team."
"Running back Evan Royster is gone after setting the school record as their all-time leading rusher, but I personally think they should be fine without him. I really don’t think he played up to his potential last year.”
What Big Ten Coaches are saying about: Purdue
“Danny Hope has recruited great speed, and they’re very athletic. When you graduate a guy like (defensive end) Ryan Kerrigan, who’s going to step into that role? That guy was a difference-maker."
"Injuries really crippled them last year."
"The Boilermakers could surprise some people in the Big Ten. They’ve got 15 starters back (six starters on offense, nine on defense). And that doesn’t include quarterback Robert Marve and running back Ralph Bolden. Both players missed last season with knee injuries. Marve’s return will make for an interesting battle at quarterback. Bolden’s return helps soften the loss of the top two running backs (Dan Dierking and Keith Carlos) from last season."
"Purdue started 4–2 last year, but then closed on a brutal six-game losing streak. This is Danny Hope’s third season, and he’s still trying for his first winning season. I think this is his best shot. The non-conference schedule is manageable (Middle Tennessee, Rice, Southeast Missouri State), and they benefit from playing seven home games. They’re not comparable to the elite in the Big Ten, but making a bowl game is certainly not that big of a stretch.”
What Big Ten Coaches are saying about: Wisconsin
“Bret Bielema found out that karma’s a funny thing. He went for a two-point conversion late in a blowout win against Minnesota and then the Badgers lost to TCU in the Rose Bowl on a failed two-point conversion. Believe me, I wasn’t the only one that noticed the irony in that."
"There’s no doubt they’ve got a great running back situation up there. That’s one thing they do well. They’re going to be young on the offensive line, too, so it’s going to be interesting. And they graduated quite a few guys."
"(Quarterback) Scott Tolzien was phenomenal a year ago. They won 11 games because he was so dang consistent. I didn’t see him make many mistakes."
"(Offensive coordinator) Paul Chryst does a great job. They’re very similar to Iowa in where they’re going to have great play-action pass off of their primary runs."
"Running back John Clay left early for the NFL, but the Badgers have a stable of backs ready to go, most notably James White and Montee Ball, who saw significant action last season.”
Other Candid Coaches' Quotes: